There was excitement in the air, even suspense, at the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project steering committee meeting Oct. 24 with the expectation of a vote on the route and station locations of the transit corridor that will link Gresham and downtown Portland. This was the second time the committee had met that month, and it was running out of time.
The proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line will use 60-foot articulated buses and receive up to $175 million in local and federal funding. Five proposed stops were added to the route—four along outer Division and one at 30th Avenue, with the result being that the average distance between stops would be 0.34 miles, 85 percent of riders would use the same stop on the BRT line as they use now and 99 percent of riders would have a stop within three blocks of the stop they currently use.
Stations along outer Division and at major intersections and transfer points will be more substantial, while those along inner Division will be on a smaller scale to fit into the community better.
The BRT will be 15–20 percent faster along inner Division Street than the current Line 4 bus service. It will be more reliable, with fewer buses passing up stops because they are full, and it will provide more jobs and opportunities by creating better access to them.
Committee co-chair and Metro Council member Bob Stacey opened the meeting with praise for the committee members and the hard work they have done, “especially the folks who serve without staff support.” The committee was appointed in 2014 and works on a volunteer basis. The “modestly funded transit project” under discussion has a place within a larger set of problems, Stacey continued, and marks “progress in key needs in the community.” Stacey also noted criticism of the planners over information sharing.
Jim Howell and Doug Allen of the Association of Rail and Transit Advocates were the first in line for public comments. They had been attending meetings faithfully and presenting their own alternative proposal for the transportation corridor, which featured standard-size electric buses and an even greater number of stops. Various committee members acknowledged their efforts and contributions. TriMet Director of Planning and Policy Alan Lehto said that he foresaw a transition to electric buses in the long run, when it would be a “smart financial decision,” but adding stops would be counterproductive.
Lehto said he hoped for an increase in ridership along the route of 10–15 percent in the short term, to rise eventually to 40 percent.
Much of the meeting, like the previous one, was devoted to issues of democracy and commitment. On Oct. 3, the committee met to discuss outstanding issues before it in greater detail. TriMet project manager Kelly Betteridge provided special cost details. TriMet is the largest system in the country not to have articulated buses, she said. Planners explained again why it was necessary to tailor the project to the requirements of the federal Small Starts program—essentially because there was nowhere else to get the money. The biggest change that entailed was shortening the BRT route by terminating it at the Gresham Transit Center, rather than at Mt. Hood Community College. Community and committee members expressed their reservations and continuing concerns about that move and other issues, such as disabled access, sidewalks and unexamined alternatives.
That meeting was referred to as a “deep dive” (into the data, apparently) and concluded with a “temperature-taking exercise” in which the committee members characterized themselves as green, yellow or red. There was wide distribution of all the colors.
Gresham City Councilor Lori Stegmann suggested October 3 that a memo of understanding be written with MHCC on other ways to improve service to the college in Phase II of the project. A memo of understanding was drafted, with the result that Stegmann , as well as MHCC board of trustees member and steering committee member Michael Calcagno, seemingly a recalcitrant opponent of the new proposed route, changed their temperatures to green Oct. 24. Lori Boisen of Division-Midway Alliance, remained red, saying that “we have not made what we started out for” and the committee needs to represent communities, not just government agencies.
Meanwhile, Kem Marks, an AmeriCorps representative advisor and committee member from the Division-Midway Alliance and East Portland Action Plan, found that “extraordinarily frustrating” and criticized the lack of public hearings on the agreement. He remained red. Raahi Reddy of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and University of Oregon echoed Marks’ objections, saying bilateral talks have no place in a committee process. She also remained red.
Increased service on the Line 20 bus to MHCC would come into effect sometime next year and be financed from the payroll tax.
Discussion of the western terminus, and the closely related question of the river crossing, was postponed until Nov. 7. There is new information to consider on the topic, committee co-chair and Metro Council member Shirley Craddick said. All voting was delayed until then as well. The steering committee’s vote is a recommendation only, and a consensus is not required.
This post was corrected on November 10. In the fourth paragraph from the end, we misidentified Lori Boisen as Lori Stegmann.